Cars with the Most MPG for Your Money

Last Updated Apr 29, 2010 11:03 AM EDT

Everybody's trying to pick winners these days-from American Idol to the Kentucky Derby. In that spirit, and inspired by a list of the best deals on high-mileage cars from, MoneyWatch went hunting for the cars offering you the most MPG for your money.

For its list, TrueCar looked at total cost: purchase price plus gas over six years driving 15,000 miles annually, factoring in any rebates or tax credits available. Its rock-bottom winner, at 20 cents per mile: the Hyundai Accent, a not-very-well-reviewed small car.
But since you'd want a great car, not just an economical one, MoneyWatch whittled down TrueCar's list based on our own test drives and other reviews and found four winners. One runs on gas, one's a diesel, and two are hybrids. Drumroll, please:

Small Car: Honda Fit With a $16,315 price and 35 mpg highway/28 city, the Fit has an impressively low six-year cost of 27 cents per mile. The Fit has a smooth ride, responsive handling, and roomy (for a small car) back seats that fold down for maximum cargo hauling.

Mid-size Sedan: Nissan Altima Hybrid Though much bigger than most of TrueCar's best-deal cars, the Altima still finished in the site's Top 10, at 32 cents per mile (33 mpg highway/35 city). Combine its $2,350 federal tax credit plus Nissan's $3,000 rebate and you get an alluring purchase price of $20,814. With strong acceleration, excellent handling, and comfortable seats, the Altima is one of the best-driving hybrid sedans.

Station Wagon: Volkwagen Jetta SportWagen TDI With sales of clean diesel models booming, about 85% of Jetta wagon buyers choose the diesel version. The 42 mpg highway rating (30 city) makes it an appealing choice. The Jetta will get you a $1,300 federal tax credit, and with a $25,409 average selling price, its six-year cost is just 36 cents a gallon, the best of any wagon. Like all diesels, the Jetta gives you plenty of punch when you hit the accelerator at any speed.

SUV: Mercury Mariner Hybrid You can't get a federal tax credit for this $28,692 hybrid sibling of the Ford Escape because Ford has sold more than 60,000 hybrids, after which the credits expire. But the Mariner Hybrid's 34 mpg city/31 highway brings its TrueCar cost in at 41 cents a mile, the best of any SUV. Reviewers praise its stylish looks, comfort and good cargo capacity.

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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.